Lack of civility

It is a poor comment on our ability to dispassionately debate and judge issues that the contesting views of the country’s two best economists on national  priorities are  simplistically reduced to partisan political  terms. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s emphasis on the need for distributive justice, human development and positive social goals to be important elements of state policy is well-known. So is distinguished economist Jagdish Bhagvati’s accent on the need to push economic growth,  to promote free market policies and to encourage globalised trade. It is not the first time two models of development have been  debated in the country. The country has seen them even in the fifties when there was a search for direction. The acceptance of  the idea of a socialist pattern of society was not without a lively contest and protests from brilliant minds. But the debates were not at partisan political and personal levels.

What the two economists have tried to do is to refashion this debate in the modern context in terms of contemporary  national realities and government policies. Unvitiated by the intrusion of politics, the disagreement between the two  public intellectuals would enrich our understanding of policies and programmes and the ideas which should drive them. Amartya Sen’s support of the food security scheme, NREGA and other welfare measures is a part of his larger perspective on development.   Bhagvati has supported what has come to be known as the Gujarat model of development. This led the economists to be unreasonably dubbed as supporters of the Congress and the BJP.

There was a further degradation of public discourse when a BJP MP, Chandan Mitra, who is an intellectual himself, demanded that the Bharat Ratna awarded to Amartya Sen be withdrawn because of his opposition to Narendra Modi becoming  prime minister. Sen had said in public that he did not want Modi to be the prime minister because the minorities would not feel secure under him. Sen is entitled to his views on Modi and Rahul Gandhi and has the freedom to express them. It is ridiculous and reeking of  intolerance to link the Bharat Ratna to the awardee’s political views. It is a national award and not a political reward. Should a person who gets the award support the party of the government which decided to confer the honour on him?  Mitra has toned down his demand in the face of criticism, but the lack of good sense and civility lingers.

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